A new kind of prescription is available to people in Neath who might benefit from connecting to social activities to help improve their emotional health and well-being.
At a time when more of us appear to be presenting with low level mental health issues, Nia Dix-Williams, a social prescriber assigned to surgeries in the area, is ready to step in and offer social help rather than medical treatment.
The move is also helping to alleviate some of the pressure on GPs as an increasing number of patients have social problems which can result in anxiety, low mood, grief, loneliness or financial worries.
Now doctors can refer such patients to Nia, who will work with them to formulate an action plan that will hopefully help them turn things around.
Nia (pictured above) who is employed by Neath Port Talbot Council for Voluntary Service (NPTCVS) said: “Mental health issues have increased significantly over the last few years due to the pandemic, and this service is essential to help people overcome barriers.
“It also helps GPs as a lot of people complain of loneliness and isolation issues. They are under a huge amount of pressure and their time is limited around how many patients they can see each day.
“My role is to promote and raise awareness of what services and organisations are out there to overcome certain issues.
“It could be someone is experiencing a bereavement issue and I would signpost them to a counselling service. Or someone could be in isolation, so I would identify certain local services that could help them. It could be a befriending project.
“For example, I’ve been working with someone who has a significant isolation issue – they’ve got no family or friends. I spoke to Age Connects, who have got a befriending project, and they are going to arrange for a volunteer to meet up with this particular person on a weekly basis to do different activities with them such as going to the beach or going for coffee.
“Another patient was presenting with low level mental health issues. He enjoyed walking, so I suggested a local walking group. He has been going along for the last few months and he has met new people and created new friendships. He’s now got a routine in his life which he didn’t before.
“And a further example was a gentleman who has had quite significant mental health issues over many years. I was able to identify that the grief of losing his mother has affected him immensely.
“I asked him what he enjoys doing. He explained that he loved gardening – so I tasked him to do a couple of hours a week.
“The result is he now has a beautiful garden and it has helped him reflect upon his emotions and what he has been through over the last few years, which has helped with his relationship with his wife and improved his mind-set.
“It was a simple intervention but it has changed the whole way of his thinking and helped him become more positive.
“The feedback that I had recently from him is that it’s been ‘life-changing.’ The reason being, it has opened doors for him. It has allowed him to access services that he might not have known about.”
The service, which is carried out over the telephone, is accessed via a GP.
Nia said: “If you mention social prescribing to your GP, they can book a call directly in my diary if they feel you may benefit from this particular programme.
“I don’t see patients face to face, it will be a friendly telephone call where we can have a chat to see how I can support them. We can then have a look at an action plan to overcome whatever barrier that person has got.
“I’ve worked for NPTCVS for nearly 10 years now and have been involved with various exciting roles during that time. I’ve gained so much experience working in such diverse roles over the years. It’s all about making a difference.”
The service is for adults only.
Nia said: “For me, I absolutely thrive on helping people and making that difference. That’s the most important aspect of my job.
“Don’t struggle in silence, go and see your GP and ask to talk to a social prescriber.”
Dr Deborah Burge-Jones, chair of the Neath Local Cluster Collaborative, said: “As clinicians, we strongly believe that social prescribing not only improves outcomes for people but also gives them more options of support, as it helps promote choice and allows people more control over their own lives.
“Quite often we forget that our health and well-being levels are determined by wider social, economic and environmental factors. Social prescribers like Nia have the time, specialist knowledge and ability to explore the underlying factors affecting people lives and provide a more suitable solution to their needs.
“I urge anyone who feels they could benefit from this service to contact their GP and ask to be linked in to the service. This can be done via the reception staff and does not necessarily require a GP appointment.”